Black fingers claw at your neck. The zip of your windcheater is yanked away from your red raw chin.

You gasp for air. You're choking. Something has wrapped itself around your throat.

You gasp again, deeper, more hungrily. You're sucking in air but your lungs are not quenched. They crave more. They crave breath but you're still choking. No, suffocating.

Gloved fingers claw again, pulling away the collar of your jacket, the layerings of fleece scarf and the neck gaiter that has until this point helped keep airborne Himalayan dirt from coating your teeth.

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The world around you is white with snow and glare. The black tip of Everest is somewhere to your right but you don't care. Hunched over, hands on knees, you instead stare at your boots.

It's too hard, you think.

This was never your goal. You've reached Base Camp, may as well just turn around and head back to the warmth of your Gorek Shep lodge, you reason.

But pride and determination keep you from succumbing. And so does your sherpa.

Pleas of "should I turn back?" are met with "no, it's okay — slowly, slowly".

You're not even halfway up Kala Pattar — a mountain rising above Everest Base Camp to 5545m — but you soldier on.

You are in an adventurous group of six, yet the other quintet has broken away and you're falling further behind with each gasping stop.

The rest of your World Expeditions travelling pack, another eight hikers, are still curled up in bed. They won't be woken for breakfast for two more hours.

You scale one miniature crest to meet a fallen mate. He's coughing up phlegm. Fearing a chest infection will soon take hold, he curses Kala Pattar as he begins a premature descent.

It's -25C and tips of fingers are numb despite your gloves.

Toes feel frozen even though they're encased in thick socks and hiking boots.

Nipples are so icy they seem bound to fall away from your chest. Pounding fists against breasts does nothing to stop the chilled pain.

After what feels like an eternity yet has only been 2.5 hours, you see the peak. From mounds of rocks, rainbow prayer flags flutter in a light wind. A handful of other hikers take photos of themselves with the distant summit of Mt Everest in the background.

It's from this vantage point that you can finally appreciate the looming Everest, at 8848m.

Cloud obscures its triangle tip but you can see its walls are black and sheer, and incredibly humbling.

How some people can scale such a monstrosity is an achievement that leaves you in awe. For mere mortals, Kala Pattar is high enough.

You take a moment to appreciate the landscape, take numerous photos and then begin your descent over snow-covered rocks. It's slippery but you hop along. With each step lower you can breath more easily and your energy returns, but only momentarily.

By the time you arrive back at the Gorek Shep lodge, ready for a hearty breakfast, you collapse in a heap. Even the sherpas look exhausted.

It's only 9.30am.

You still have a full day's hiking in front of you and your body is overcome with fatigue.

Yet your mind is buzzing from conquering a mountain.

You succumbed to the curse of Kala Pattar, the lure of that extra Himalayan challenge.

A challenge that's harder, more fearsome, than reaching Base Camp. One that will literally take your breath away.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Cathay Pacific has a special on Christmas fares to Kathmandu via Hong Kong starting from $1800 return in Economy Class, on sale until June 15.

Details: World Expeditions' 17-day Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar tour is rated at a moderate fitness level journey. Fourteen days are spent trekking. The tour costs $3290 pp and includes most meals, airport transfers, a return flight to Lukla, trekking permits and park fees.

Accommodation is a combination of 8 nights in permanent campsites, six nights in mountain lodges and three nights in a hotel. The campsites and lodges are basic, with a mix of squat and western toilets.

- AAP